Agile2015 Highlights

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I’m writing this as I fly home from the Agile2015 conference, or what Jake Calabrese rightfully calls “summer camp.”  I headed into the week planning to focus on sessions related to product ownership or one of it’s related fields, as I described a couple of weeks ago. As a result I found myself attending several user experience related sessions, which helped to expand my understanding of that field.  I also attended some sessions on topics I’m a bit more familiar with such as ideas from Lean Startup, and I also attended a couple of sessions that just sounded fun.

Below is a quick summary of the sessions I got the most out of. These sessions tended to discuss fairly simple techniques but did a deep enough dive that I was able to get some good nuggets out of them.  A few of these sessions prompted some ideas that I’ll explore in more depth a bit later.

The link to Session Details takes you to the conference’s online conference and depending on whether the presenter uploaded it, you’ll be able to get the presentation from that location.

Consensus That Sticks

Session Details

Jeremy Kriegel @sonarc

The Gist

Graphic facilitation can be very helpful for helping a group identify options and reach consensus (i.e. a decision all can support). Affinity mapping is a useful technique that consists of three key steps:

  • Idea capture (Real-time/Individual)
  • Organizing (Unstructured/Structured)
  • Prioritization (Dot Voting/Forced Prioritization)

The different variations of those steps are most helpful in different contexts based on what you are trying to accomplish.

Key Takeaways

I’m fairly familiar with affinity mapping, so my key takeaways from this session are related to some insights about the various steps of the technique.

  • Remember that early ideas stick – people in the team will tend to base new ideas off the first few, so you may limit the variety of options you receive
  • Be careful not to get too vague in the header categories.
  • Dot voting is a good way to get a feel for the room, but really shouldn’t be used as the sole means of determining a specific decision. I like to use it as a way of deciding the order in which we discuss things further.
  • Using structured organization where you place items relatively on two axis (such as Value and Ease of Implementation) is a good way to have discussion about characteristics of the ideas.
  • Deciding which risks to mitigate and assumptions to verify can come down to a tradeoff between the cost of being wrong and the value of knowing.

Prototyping: Iterating Your Way to Glory

Session Details

Melissa Perri @lissijean
Josh Wexler @josh_wexler

The Gist

Iteration is the key to learning successfully. Cognitive biases block your ability to iterate and to learn. Prototypes are a great way to help us communicate and learn and avoid cognitive biases.

Key Takeaways

Three kinds of prototypes:

  • Conceptual
  • Experiential (wireframes)
  • Technical

Three qualities prototypes can exhibit:

  • Visual: Sketched – Styled
  • Functional: Static – Interactive
  • Content: Sample – Actual

It’s helpful to establish a persona and describe the story of how they may interact with the solution. You may start out with a text version of a customer journey or story map.

As a starting point it’s helpful to do your prototypes in black & white so people don’t get too distracted by the color.

Create the prototypes and then sit with customers and have questions in mind to ask them. Make sure the questions are open ended and are not leading.

Example Mapping

Session Details

Matt Wynne @mattwynne

The Gist

Gherkin alone does not make good acceptance criteria. Likewise writing Gherkin and chucking it over the wall does not mean you’re doing BDD. The important bit is the conversation that leads to shared understanding.

Key Takeaways

Rules and examples are both important, and it’s best to be in a situation where you have both.

Three Amigos is a black box where a story goes in and additional stories, rules, examples, and a shared understanding comes out.

The examples that come out of Three Amigos should not necessarily be written in Gherkin. Rather, it’s helpful to use the Friends Episode naming pattern (The one where…). Likewise, rules can be named “What if…?”

Not every rule needs examples.

Helpful References:

Slides showing how to run an effective Three Amigos discussion

Cucumber School

Product Owner Value Game

Session Details

Dajo Breddels @dajobreddels
Paul Kuijten @paulkuijten

The Gist

A game that teaches people to think about backlog refinement in a different way. The game is most effective when it is combined with active facilitation while groups are playing the game.

Key Takeaways

The deck of game cards.

#1 Learning objective for a game for Product Owners is how to become more value driven.

Backlog Refinement (specifically sequencing) comes comes down to: What’s most valuable to do at a specific point in time?

Not everything that has value can be measured. Not everything that you measure has value.

Helpful Resources

To find out more about the Product Owner Value Game go to

Organizing for Innovation

Session Detail

David Bland @davidjbland

The Gist

Organizing for innovation means:

  • Actionable strategy to define what you will and will not do.
  • Teams give an account with leading indicators
  • Creating urgency & expectations with incremental funding on Horizon 3

Key Takeaways

High retention low satisfaction organizations are prime for disruption

ROI is the worst measure of progress for innovation because it is a lagging indicator. Need a leading indicator to make decisions.

Giving Account > Holding Accountable i.e. Leaders should want their teams to give an account of how they are progressing.

Corporations don’t lack ideas, instead they have trouble deciding which ones to invest in.

What’s my MVP

Session Details

Jeffrey Morgan @chzy
Ardita Kiraj @ardita_k

The Gist

While the idea of the Minimum Viable Product came out of the world of Lean Startup, it certainly also applies to enterprise situations, with some modifications.

Key Takeaways

  • Form hypothesis and validate them often
  • Customer value is priority
  • Start with the end, but look at the whole picture
  • Replace larger systems one piece at a time – not big bang delivery.
  • Keep the users involved.
  • Continuous integration & continuous delivery
  • Keep your MVP small.

Research is not just for the UX Team; Strategies for everyone to understand end-users

Session Details
Amanda Stockwell @mandalaceys

The Gist

A great deal of user experience is doing research. You can basically organize that research into three groups:

  • Business models & goals
  • End user goals, needs and behaviors
  • How well we’re serving those users.

There are a lot of UX Research methods, and you don’t have to be a UX professional to do them (but they can be very helpful).

Key Takeaways

Steps to UX Research

  • Determine research goal
  • Determine research category
  • (Cheat) Rely on Experts
  • Do it
  • Incorporate

Keys to Research Success

  • Ask the right questions
  • Ask the questions the right way
  • Practice logistics

Helpful Resources

A great cheat sheet listing UX Methods and their applicability.


About the Author

Kent J McDonald writes about and practices software product management. He has IT and product development experience in a variety of industries including financial services, health insurance, nonprofit, and automotive. Kent currently practices his craft for a variety of organizations and provides just in time resources for product owners and business analysts at and Product Collective. When not writing or product managing, Kent is his family’s #ubersherpa, listens to jazz and podcasts (but not necessarily podcasts about jazz), and collects national parks.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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